“What does it mean, then, to be meek? From the outset here you must realize that Christ is not speaking at all about the government and its work, whose property it is not to be meek, as we use the word in German, but to bear the sword (Rom. 13:4) for the punishment of those who do wrong (1 Pet. 2:14), and to wreak a vengeance and a wrath that are called the vengeance and wrath of God. He is only talking about how individuals are to live in relation to others, apart from official position and authority.”
Now, let’s turn to look at Martin Luther’s expositions of the Sermon on the Mount. We find the first of these in his treatise Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed, and the second in, unsurprisingly, The Sermon on the Mount. The first, while troubled by a number of inconsistencies (some simply the result of Luther’s characteristic lack of rhetorical caution), offers a much more satisfactory account than the second. I shall resist the temptation to dwell on the inconsistencies and will stick to the core argument.
If you're getting tired of VanDrunen, I don't blame you. I did too, as you'll see in the next installment after this one that I'm going to post. The new website is still under construction, but should be up soon. In the meantime, anyone out there who's really into two kingdoms theology in the 17th century can read on.
VanDrunen's extensive discussion of natural law in this chapter sheds little more light on the problem than did his singularly unhelpful discussion in chapter 4. The opening subsection of the main discussion in this chapter starts out promisingly, as VanDrunen quotes Francis Turretin and John Owen on the nature and origin of natural law. Turretin says that the natural law arises “from a divine obligation being impressed by God upon the conscience of man in his very creation,” and, moreover, “that so many remains and evidences of this law are still left in our nature (although it has been in different ways corrupeted and obscured by sin) that there is no mortal who cannot feel its force either more or less.”
This chapter was certainly the weakest so far, and the weakness, unless I’m missing something, is rather simple to identify and describe, so this review shouldn’t take so long. His approach in this chapter is quite simple: examine the treatises of six prominent “Reformed resistance theorists”--three from among the English Marian exiles (John Knox, John Ponet, and Christopher Goodman) and three from among the Huguenots (Francois Hotman, Theodore Beza, and the author of the Vindiciae)--and look for any appeals to non-Biblical sources, all of which can then be lumped under the heading of “natural law.” The result is rich in scholarly-sounding footnotes but quite lacking in substance.
May 21, 2010
(Note: I'm leaving town tomorrow, and will have little chance to reply to post--hence the barrage today--or reply to comments for several days. So by all means comment, but I may take a few days to get back to you...the same goes for comments earlier today that I haven't gotten to.)
So I have found a reason to like Vermigli: namely, he’s a bit more restrained than Bullinger. In “On the Office of the Magistrate” from the Sermonum Decades, Bullinger starts out rather carelessly on his proof that “care of religion belongs to the Magistrate,” by alleging that in ancient times, kings were also priests.
“For among them of old, their kinges were priestes, I mean maisters and overseers of religion. Melchisedech that holie and wise Prince of the Chanaanitish people, who bare the type or figure of Christe our Lord, is wonderfullie commended in holie Scriptures: Now he was both king and priest together. Moreover in the booke of Numbers, to Iosue [Joshua] newlie ordained and lately consecrated, are the lawes belonging to religion given up and delivered.”
VanDrunen’s claim about the use of the natural law in Reformed political theology certainly seems to ring true for a lot of what we find in Vermigli and Bullinger. His claim was that, since for the Reformers, the political realm was outside of the sphere of the redemptive gospel, and belonged only to the sphere of creation, the ethics of that sphere were determined by the natural law and not by Scripture, and so pagan sources could be appealed to just as readily as Christian ones. Of course, there are many problems with the way VanDrunen tries to make this claim, as I have been discussing in my reviews, but it is certainly true that these early Reformed thinkers are quite comfortable mingling sacred and secular sources in developing their political theology. Consider Bullinger’s dedication to On the Authority of Holy Scripture, which I just posted about earlier.
May 21, 2010
“But already, O most powerful King, since the Lord has selected and anointed you to be above his people, you understand what is proper for you and what it is necessary to do. You are the king, therefore you are the father of your country. You are the head of the kingdom, therefore you will exercise understanding for yourself and your kingdom. You are the soul of the body of England, therefore you will animate your people for the duties of a holy life. You are the eye, the sun, and the light of the Church of England, therefore, snatching the Church redeemed by the blood of Christ from the jaws of the Antichrist himself, you will illuminate it with the word of Christ, and what is subverted by superstition will also be restored by true religion. You have begun the work of Christ beautifully, and it advances extraordinarily through the grace of God; you will continue fearlessly in hope of the promise of God. They who desire the advancement of the glory of Christ pray to the Lord for you and for your kingdom, and they rejoice for the gifts given by the Lord for those who labor therein.”*
Virgin screwed us, again. I speak of Virgin Media, of course, as any UK reader might guess. Having suffered under their hidden fees, overpriced services, and wretched customer service for nine months, and having heard from others about similar experiences, we knew they were likely to. And that’s why we wanted out; so we made all the arrangements, prepared to switch to a new provider, only to find that Virgin had, without our knowledge, swindled us into an eight-month contract extension, to which we were now bound. All this despite dedicated research and fine-print reading before we signed up, and ceaseless vigilance afterward (trust me, this is going somewhere--this isn’t just a rant...or, it may be a rant, but it's a thoughtful one).
Yesterday, my friend Byron preached a fantastic sermon on Isaiah 58, a remarkable passage that I was startled to find that I didn’t remember ever noticing it or having heard it before. Just goes to show how rarely we are ever led to consider those passages that smack of liberation theology. This passage is particularly challenging in its rejection of the “worship first, justice later” paradigm that is so prevalent in our circles, as it is unsettling to note that the worship being condemned is genuine heartfelt worship, not hypocrisy or empty show. The passage was so striking, I thought I would post verses 1-11 here:
“When Christianity came into the world, it did not itself need to point out (even though it did do so) that it was an offense, because the world, which took offense, certainly discovered this easily enough. But now, now when the world has become Christian, now Christianity above all must itself pay attention to the offense. Therefore if it is true that many ‘Christians’ in these times miss out on Christianity, how does it happen except through their missing out on the possibility of offense, this, note well, terrifying thing! No wonder, then, that Chrsitianity, its salvation and its tasks, can no longer satisfy ‘the Christians’--indeed, they could not even be offended by it.
The universe has, I agree, a grain, a design given it by the Triune Creator, and we are to live in accord with that grain. But we discern that grain not from “unaided reason” (J. Bud hedges with “so-called unaided reason”) but in the light of Christ, by the Spirit, through the spectacles of Scripture. When we have the mind of Christ, we see how the world is to be, and how humans are to live, and we learn in turn that the world is not as it should be. To put it more strongly, provocatively: There is nothing bigger, more basic, more universal than Christ the Lord, the One by whom all things were made, the One in whom all things cohere. Christ must be given epistemological priority, and natural law theories, even of the best varieties, don’t honor that priority.
May 13, 2010
“Let us observe that in man government is twofold: the one spiritual, by which the conscience is trained to piety and divine worship; the other civil, by which the individual is instructed in those duties which, as men and citizens, we are bound to perform....the former species has reference to the life of the soul, while the latter relates to matters of the present life, not only to food and clothing, but to the enacting of laws which require a man to live among his fellows purely, honourably, and modestly. The former has its seat within the soul, the latter only regulates the external conduct. We may call the one the spiritual, the other the civil kingdom” (III.19.15, quoted on 72).
“We are not just to receive the stranger when he comes to us, but actually to enquire after, and look carefully for, strangers, to pursue them and search them out everywhere, lest perchance somewhere they may sit in the streets or lie without a roof over their heads.”
May 4, 2010
I’ve been suspicious of Just War theory for quite a while now. Some of it has to do with the pacifistic inroads Hauerwas and others made on my thinking, and some of it just has to do with the theory’s terrible historical track record. The Just War theory has much more often served as a way of providing a justification for desired wars than as a criterion for refusing wars. By reducing the requirements of justice in war to a convenient little list of criteria, the just war tradition has made it all too easy for politicians to spin the facts and stoke up the rhetoric so as to give a passable imitation of having met the criteria. And so the most absurd prideful bloodbaths get whitewashed as “just wars”--the Civil War, World War I, the Iraq War.
May 1, 2010
The “Sermon on the Mount.” Simply to mention it, in the context of any discussion of Christian ethics, will change the tenor of the conversation. It may impart an aura of sanctity and infallibility, or it may evoke images of Anabaptist radicals turning their collective cheek. It now looms larger in our cultural imagination than perhaps any other Biblical passage, standing, depending on whom you ask, for all that good about Christianity or religion, or for all that is weak, silly, or absurd. The ethics of the Sermon on the Mount have come to take on an absolutist dimension, so that Max Weber could famously write,
“The Sermon on the Mount, by which we mean the absolute ethics of the Gospel, is something far more serious than those who are so fond of citing its commandments today believe. It is not to be taken frivolously. What has been said about causality in science also applies to this ethic, namely that it is not a hired cab which one may stop at will and climb into or out of as one sees fit. Rather, the meaning of the sermon (if it is not to be reduced to banality) is precisely this: we must accept it in its entirety or leave it entirely alone.”
At the risk of sounding like Puddleglum in my continued negativity, I note that Vermigli and Bullinger’s political theology seems to combine the worst of both worlds. They insist on a tremendous continuity between the civil and ecclesial realms when it comes to establishing the prince’s authority to manage the Church and its ministers, but they insist on tremendous discontinuity when it comes to any of the influence or authority going the other way. We hear that Christ’s kingdom is a purely spiritual kingdom, and so all the things that he tells his disciples to do and how to live, etc., are only intended to ministers in the Church, not to any other authorities; in fact, when he tells them things like “You are not to lord it over one another as the Gentiles do”; far from calling into question the power-arrangements in the empire, he intends to reinforce them.
April 29, 2010
When I was buying plane tickets and booking accomodations earlier this week for a summer trip to Europe, I was surprised by all the little “insurance” add-ons I was being urged to purchase. For an extra 20 euros, I could buy the right to receive a full refund on my ticket if for any reason I needed to cancel my travel plans. For an extra 15, I could buy full coverage for any lost baggage. For 10 (this was my favorite), I could guarantee myself a 75 euro refund if my flight arrived more than an hour late. Now, needless to say, these little promises of security had little allure for me--my reaction was, “Heck, that takes all the fun out of it! What’s the point of traveling if there’s no uncertainty?” After all, I am the guy who intentionally proposed to my future wife when I really didn’t know if she would answer yes, just because I thought the uncertainty made it more interesting.
April 28, 2010
Before reviewing the rest of chapter 1, I want to voice my appreciation for VanDrunen’s tone in this section. Unless I am missing hidden barbs of underlying sarcasm (which may well be the case, since I have become rather fuller of the milk of human kindness since moving over here than I was in my American Reformed days), his general tone throughout is patient, measured, carefully qualified, and quite respectful of his opponents. I am particularly gratified by the way he summarizes figures such as N.T. Wright, John Milbank, and Stanley Hauerwas, all of whom tend to be polarizing figures, oft misrepresented, especially in American Reformed circles. He represents them fairly and seems to have genuine respect for the insights and contributions they bring to the theological discussion, even where he disagrees with them. He clearly thinks that neo-Calvinism is deeply flawed, yet he never acts like they are stupid, wicked, irrational, or incoherent. In all of these respects, I found this book much easier reading than I’d expected, having been prepared by my experience with Darryl Hart for a lot of snarkiness.
I have been asked to review David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought for the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, and so I will be blogging through the book in detail as I read it; of course the final review will be far more condensed than what I offer here. So here is the first post, which doesn’t get us past the first page (don’t worry--it will go faster after this!).
April 27, 2010
Six hundred years later, the growth of capitalism has called forth a militant socialism in reaction. Its call for the abolition of all private property by the state incites Leo XIII to respond with the encyclical Rerum Novarum, inaugurating the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching. At the center of this document is a full-blown attack on socialism, based on a sturdy defense of the right of private property, a right that Leo feels the need to affirm more strongly than Aquinas did. While seeking (and no doubt perceiving himself) to be in line with Thomist teaching, Leo comes close to simply rooting the right of property in nature, in a way that Thomas never does. He does this by importing a Lockean metaphysical account of property, suggesting that a right to private property simply arises out of one’s labor upon that property. It is worth attending carefully to how he constructs his justification and how it differs from Aquinas’s.
Way back near the beginning of this school year, I remember Prof. Northcott recounting to our class a recent debate in Durham, NC, that he’d been invited to participate in, a debate with Calvin Beisner, whom he aptly termed “a cornucopian dominionist.” With humored incredulity, he shared with us the astonishing fact that Beisner thought it was “theft” for the government to take people’s money through taxes and distribute them to others through programs like Social Security or the debated healthcare initiative. Could we believe he said such a thing? he asked. I timidly answered that almost everyone I’d grown up around would’ve employed that rhetoric. And I’ve been thinking about it ever since--is this really a rational criticism? If it is rational, it certainly isn’t self-evident. And not being self-evident, and being a rather harsh and provocative accusation, it seems that, if there’s any weight to it, it ought to be carefully argued, not casually thrown around without a shred of argumentation, as it often has been, particularly during the healthcare debate and in its aftermath.
Who in Thy sacrament dost deign to be;
Both flesh and spirit at Thy presence fail,
Yet here Thy presence we devoutly hail.
Who living Bread to men doth here afford!
O may our souls forever feed on Thee,
And Thou, O Christ, forever precious be.
Cleanse us, unclean, with Thy most cleansing blood;
Increase our faith and love, that we may know
The hope and peace which from Thy presence flow.
May what we thirst for soon our portion be,
To gaze on Thee unveiled, and see Thy face,
The vision of Thy glory and Thy grace.